Catalina Island Marathon

Well, it’s been a week since I ran the marathon – sorry for the late re-cap but we “celebrated” by camping down the coast and I took the opportunity to take a bit of a web vacation as well.


It began the day before with a ferry ride over to the island – Catalina Island is around 26 miles off the coast of LA – where we were going to set up camp and sleep before the 7 a.m. start.  It turns out I’m really not good with big waves as I seemed to be the only person on the ferry puking my all my carefully planned carbs out into the ferry toilets.  Meanwhile, my kids were huddling under the seats like small animals in search of shelter.  They may have gotten my poor sea-faring genes.  Luckily there was a pasta dinner at the other end, so I could re carbo-load up.

After dinner, we set up camp and tucked in for an early night.  At one point in the night my husband heard the breath of an animal outside our tent.  He went out with a flash light and I was woken by his shout.  While searching for a small rodent-like animal his flashlight landed on a massive buffalo munching grass 10 feet from our tent.  We had no idea there were Buffalo on the island.  I guess we could have checked a few things out with the locals beforehand, but we basically went in with optimistic ignorance. (Note the ominous foreshadowing.)

Race morning started with a half-mile hike out to the start – we just followed the crowds – and the usual pre-race rituals of taking sips of water and peeing behind cacti.  Seemed normal and familiar enough.

I knew the course was hilly and that the course records were slow, but I hadn’t actually talked to anyone who had done it.  I thought “I’ll figure it out – I don’t want to be freaked out”.  Well, the first hill started pretty much immediately and never ended.  At mile three I thought “my legs are going to be sore tomorrow”.  Just 23 miles to go.  There was no rhythm to get into, and each hill was followed almost immediately by an even more leg-destroying downhill.  It wasn’t run up, across, and down as I’d thought, but up, down, up, down, up, up, up, up, down, down, down, down.  I’ll admit that I paced it completely wrong and when I saw some people flying down the first few hills I thought “hey, maybe that’s how you’re supposed to do it” and basically destroyed my downhill muscle fibers in the first few miles.  Here’s a snapshot which might give you an idea of the course:

It’s beautiful, yes, but OMG the hills!!!

The other unexpected thing I encountered was a return of our old campsite friend – the buffalo.  In the middle of the course!  I noticed it a few hundred meters out and thought it was an aid station.  As I got closer I couldn’t make sense of it, or why the few runners ahead of me were stopping.  Then I got closer and realized it was a BIG male buffalo who didn’t look to be too happy to have runners going by his hang-out.  Not knowing what to do I just followed the runners ahead of me by stopping, creeping up a grass embankment and tip-toeing by him.  I know surprisingly little about buffalo except that thankfully they’re vegetarians.  No idea whether they charge like bulls or moose.  One runner got too close and received an angry snort.  I wasn’t testing it.

(Side note. Apparently buffalo were introduced to Catalina Island for a movie shoot in the 1920s and were left there to live and breed happily ever since.)

In the end, I stopped “racing” and decided just to run as moving forward at any pace seemed all I could do.  I knew I was the first woman but it was impossible to tell where anyone else on the course was.  Although early on I had been looking forward to the four mile downhill finish, once there I found myself cringing at every jarring step and begging for an uphill.  I was passed by a woman with a mile and a half to go and I couldn’t do a thing about it.  I wasn’t bonking and I had the energy to go faster, but my poor quads felt like I was taking a hammer to them with every step.  I finished in 3:27, one minute behind first place and was happy with my effort.

Kudos to Ken Myers from Kingston who took the overall WIN!!!  We celebrated together Canadian style with a couple of beers.  (Thanks for the Advil Ken. Hope to see you back there next year!)

Speaking of Advil, I could have used a LOT more afterwards.  Walking was extremely difficult for three days as one leg would just give up on me and collapse sporadically.  Sidewalk curbs gave me a lot of trouble.  And here was my daily walk to the beautiful beach just outside our campground:

(My kids are way down there somewhere. Everyone gave up ever waiting for me.)

I did finally make it out for a surf once I figured I could pop up on my board.  Not pretty, but I’ll share my victories and my ugly moments:

Post-marathon surf

Now one more week to recover before my next race – Around The Bay!  Those hills will be a piece of cake 😉

6 replies
  1. Lisa Curran
    Lisa Curran says:

    This hurt me to read… you are 100X tougher than me! Great job, especially with kids in tow and camping the night before… crazy. Around the Bay will definitely seem easy by comparison… rest up 🙂

    • seannamrobinson
      seannamrobinson says:

      SO not tougher than you! Yes, I think I’ll not invite the fam to ATB. Just me for once.

  2. Tracy Greig
    Tracy Greig says:

    Now I know what marathon NOT to do! Thanks for the vivid description of the race so I can give people at the store some tips if they ever decide to do it! Good luck at ATB, I broke my ankle on km 31.78 of a 32km training run for Boston so I will not be doing ATB (or Boston) this year. 🙁 Seanna, come see us at our new location down the street from our old one if you are ever in Owen Sound or passing through. We plan on opening it on May 1!

    • seannamrobinson
      seannamrobinson says:

      Oh no! Poor you! How did that happen?? Sorry to hear about the ankle. But awesome re the new location – of COURSE I’ll visit when next in Owen Sound! Good luck. Hope to see you at a race once you’re all healed up.

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